This week’s haftorah reveals to us the true nature of Edom, descendents of Eisav, and displays her two-sided character. It teaches us to recognize Edom’s perpetual hatred for the Jewish people and never to trust her friendship. Although there may be moments when Edom displays true brotherhood we must always be wary of these situations and never establish any close association with her.
The haftorah opens with a moving description of a plot acted out against Edom, descendents of Eisav. The prophet Ovadiah says, “How was Eisav pillaged, his hidden treasures sought out? To the borders they sent you(Eisav), all of your allies enticed you: then they were able to overtake you.” (1:6) These particular passages refer to an historic moment when the surrounding allies of Edom pretended to rush to her assistance in her war against a powerful neighbor. The allies accompanied Edom all the way to the end of her borders and then abandoned her, leaving her entire country unprotected. They returned inside her country and invaded the entire Edom, now in a most vulnerable state. The prophet draws our attention to this specific episode to demonstrate the unique character of Edom’s “brotherhood.” Historically speaking, although Edom always appeared politically as a true ally this relationship was only superficial and when the opportunity arose she would typically turn against her loyal “friends” and leave them stranded. This time, her allies gave her a taste of her own medicine and, after luring Edom into war they turned on her and pillaged her entire country.
This two faced nature of Eisav was, in fact, the undertone of our Jewish nation’s sad experiences throughout the Roman Empire, largely composed of the descendents of Eisav. To demonstrate this, the prophet Ovadiah focuses on a specific aspect of the Roman era, the role the Edomites played in the destruction of the second Temple. Ovadiah says, “On the day the nations took the Jewish people captive, and entered the Jewish gates casting lots over Yerushalayim, you were also amongst them.” (1:11) In truth, the war against Yerushalayim belonged to the Romans but Edom could not stand idly by and therefore gladly participated in the destruction of the walls of the Bais Hamikdash. The Malbim (ad loc.) reminds us that these descendents of Edom were actually alleged Jewish converts who were accepted during the reign of Herod. Initially these Edomites gave the impression of sincerity and were warmly welcomed by the Jewish people. But, as could have been predicted, Edom could not be trusted and when the Jews were down, these “converts” rallied against their own Jewish “brethren” and readily assisted in destroying them.
This two faced nature expressed itself even in the earlier Babylonian exile when Eisav’s descendents offered their assistance in driving the final nails into the Jewish coffin. The Prophet Ovadiah says, “And don’t stand by the crossroads to finish off refugees.” (1:14) The Yalkut Shimoni (549)explains that this passage refers to the cunning strategy of the Edomites during our first exile. They would station themselves a short distance behind the Babylonian army and wait in ambush for the Jewish refugees. They reasoned, “If the Jews win we’ll say we’re here to help them and if the Babylonians win we’ll help them kill the remaining Jews.” Again we are reminded of the unique “brotherhood” of Edom. Due to their two-faced character, they could easily pass for true brothers awaiting to help the Jews in their time of distress. But, in truth, this disguise only provided them a perfect opportunity to eradicate any trace of the Jewish people, should the situation arise.
Edom’s pattern of “brotherhood” traces itself all the way back to Edom’s predecessor, Eisav. In this week’s sedra, (Torah portion) we read that Eisav ran towards his brother Yaakov to embrace him. Although Eisav had been Yaakov’s arch enemy from birth, it seems that he had undergone a sincere change of attitude. Yaakov had sent an elaborate present to Eisav as a gesture of true friendship and, for the first time in their lives, a sense of friendship and brotherhood developed. The Torah relates that in response to this gift, “Eisav ran to his brother, embraced him, and “kissed” him.(Bereishis 32:4) However, Chazal note the mysterious dots which appear inthe Torah above the word “kissed” and reveal that Eisav did not truly intend to kiss his brother. In actuality, he attempted to bite him, but was unsuccessful in his endeavor. His perpetual hatred was so deep that even in this true moment of friendship he could not subdue his innermost feelings and found himself compelled to express them. In explanation of this, Rashi (ad loc) quotes the classic statement of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai,”It is a set principle that Eisav hates Yaakov.” This warns us never to lose sight of Eisav’s inner hatred and even when true gestures of “friendship” are displayed never to overlook what lies beneath the surface.
Edom, the present day Eisav will never be our true friend and we must always be wary of her association with us. We should never become too closely related to her and must always remember her true character. This deep seeded hatred remains throughout the generations until the final day when, as Ovadiah says, “The saviors will rise from Mount Zion to judge the (inhabitants of Eisav’s) mountain and then the perfect reign will belong to Hashem. (1:21)